Friday September 28, 2012
Soros is back – after 15 years
COMMENT By BARADAN KUPPUSAMY
The man who was once blamed for a regional financial crisis is back in the news again.
GEORGE Soros, an American financier and philanthropist, is once again looming large over Malaysian politics and society as he had during the 1997 Asian financial crisis when the Thai baht and ringgit came crashing through the roof.
Then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had blamed Soros, now 82, for selling short the currencies and sparking a run on them.
It led to a massive devaluation, triggering a region-wide financial crisis that brought countries to their knees.
Thailand and Indonesia went to the International Monetary Fund for help but Malaysia relied on capital controls to get out of the fix.
Today, 15 years later, Soros is making headlines once again as several pro-government NGOs demand that government agencies investigate Suaram, a human rights organisation, for receiving funding from the Open Society Foundation that is managed by Soros.
They alleged that Soros has an agenda for funding Suaram and that Malaysia's sovereignty and independence is at stake by allowing foreign money to flow in freely.
In the limelight is also news portal Malaysiakini which had received funding from Soros for Internet and other digital media projects in the region.
Dr Mahathir, Soros' old nemesis, jumped into the act on Sunday with the allegation that the currency speculator was attempting to usurp political power from the Barisan Nasional government by appointing his own leader as the next prime minister of Malaysia.
“How can it be a good thing? He wants to control our politics,” Dr Mahathir said. “He wants to choose his own man to be prime minister,” the former PM told newsmen.
That statement sparked furious reaction on the Internet with both sides of the political divide taking positions and alternatively lambasting or supporting the statement for all it is worth.
Who is George Soros and why is he figuring large in our politics?
A Google search will show that Soros maintains a website about himself and his Open Society Foundation where he claims he supports democracy and human rights in 70 countries.
He was born in Budapest in 1930, fled Nazism and communism to London and later migrated to the United States.
He is chairman of Soros Fund Management, his investment vehicle.
Soros is one of history's most successful financiers and his views on investing, making money and economic “bubbles” are widely followed.
He is also an author of several successful books like his Alchemy of Finance and The Bubble of American Supremacy and Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism.
His primary belief is that an open society is the best form of society. This is a society that maintains that no philosophy or ideology has the final word on the truth and that societies can only flourish when they allow for democratic governance, freedom of expression, a diverse range of opinion, and respect for individual rights.
But he is also not averse to currency speculation which has ruined many economies with ordinary people losing their jobs. He is famous for “breaking the back of the Bank of England” when he short-sold the pound sterling.
His rationale for making money? Because the laws allow it.
He makes money by predicting, among other things, the emergence of financial bubbles and has used billions of dollars to support and promote his ideal - an open society. He has backed dissident movements across the world.
He has helped people organise themselves and voice their opinions when dissonant opinions were considered anti-state propaganda. He spent over US$8bil (RM24.5bil) to support human rights, freedom of expression and access to public health and education.
His critics charged that some of these dissidents are also opposition figures hiding behind NGOs.
So why is he figuring large in our society when his level of support for democracy, for Internet media and digitisation, is at best, minuscule?
Every society needs a favourite whipping boy and he is ours. Nothing personal, as any politician would say, purely the business of politics.
In 2006, Dr Mahathir met up with Soros for the first time when Soros was on a tour to promote his latest book. It was said that they had made up.
Associating with foreign funders, especially Soros, who has a history with Malaysia, is said to have an impact on the psyche of the electorate.
With the general election looming, Barisan Nasional has gone on the offensive and the Opposition has found itself on the defensive, for now.